The Annapurna Mountains, Nepal

Author & Photo credits: Beth Pollock


There are two ways to reach Nepal’s Annapurna Base Camp: a seven-day high-altitude trek, or a half-hour helicopter ride from nearby Pokhara. If you’re a serious trekker, I’m sure there’s nothing like the thrill of conquering a trail like that. But as a non-trekker who opted for the helicopter, I’ve seldom seen anything as breathtaking as the view of Annapurna I, the tenth-highest mountain in the world and one of the mythical eight-thousanders.


Nepal’s Annapurna Base Camp.


We had admired the mountain views from the valley below, but visiting base camp was like turning a 2-D image into three dimensions. The sky was a deep shade of blue that I didn’t think was possible, and the mountains were jagged, snow-dusted peaks.

The Mountain tops of Annapurna Base Camp.

Our group was one of just two who had taken the helicopter there – nine people in total, plus the workers at base camp. As we arrived, a group of trekkers was packing up for the morning and leaving for the next stage of their journey. With so few people there, we could spread out and enjoy the majesty of the mountains in near-isolation. I spent my first few minutes at the peak snapping photos as quickly as I could. But the longer I stayed, the more I simply explored and took in the incredible beauty of the Annapurnas.

Remember that you’re at high altitude here (4130 metres) so there’s a slight risk of altitude sickness. Take it easy when you explore: although most of us had no symptoms at all, one fellow traveller experienced problems simply walking around the camp, and had to be helped.

Come to visit Base Camp, but be sure you stay a few days in the area. The mountains are at the heart of everywhere you go in Nepal, and that’s especially true in Pokhara.


Taking in the Beauty of the Annapurnas.



We rose early our first morning in Pokhara, but no one was complaining. It would be a half hour drive to nearby Sarangkot, where there’s an exquisite view of the sun rising over the Annapurnas. With a sunrise time of 6:15, we wanted to be there early. In fact, it was crowded when we arrived at about 5:45, and we opted to pay a small fee for access to a separate viewing space.

Sunrise at Sarangkot.

We watched as the sun rose over the mountains in the eastern skies, a perfect almost-white sphere in the middle of a coral-coloured sky. The effect was to anoint a golden glow on the mountains to the north and west.

The panorama included the entire Annapurna range, but none was lovelier than the Machapuchere, or the Fishtail. This is the holiest mountain in the Annapurnas, since it is believed to be home to the god Shiva. For that reason, it has never been summited.

On our way back to Pokhara, we stopped at Bindhya Basini temple. The temple was particularly busy because we were visiting just after Dashain, an important Hindu festival in Nepal. The complex was ornate and fascinating, with post-sunrise mountain views, framed by local trees and flowers, that were nearly as beautiful as what we’d seen at sunrise.


Shanti Stupa

The walkway toward Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda) is lined with fields of swaying amber marigolds. A small sign mounted amid the flowers reads, “Wise souls speak loudly in silence.” Good advice for both life and visiting the stupa, since visitors are asked to admire the dazzling white and gold pagoda in silence.


A Wise Sign Amidst the Flowers at Shanti Stupa.


The quiet adds to an aura of serenity around this structure that was built by Buddhist monks as a monument to peace, unity, and understanding. Eighty peace pagodas have been built around the world, two of them in Nepal.

After climbing the stairs, visitors can walk around two levels of the stupa; the top tier holds four statues of Buddha that were international gifts. And of course there are glorious views of the mountains, the town of Pokhara, and its lovely lake, Phewa Tal.


Statues of Buddha at the Top Level of Stupa.


Phewa Tal

Phewa, the second largest lake in Nepal, is lively during the day, with market vendors working next to busy fishermen and boaters. We had an afternoon ride in one of the doongas, the colourful boats that tour the lake. As the boater pedaled us around the lake, we admired the lush forests that surround it, and Tal Barahi Temple, which is located on an island and accessible only by boat.

Lake Phewa.

On a later walk around the lake, paraglider pilots were folding their gear next to Hotel White Pearl as they finished for the day. Pokhara is one of the top paragliding destinations in the world because of the incredible scenery and favourable thermals. And the hotel is one of the most popular launching sites because of its location beside the lake.

But my favourite visit to Phewa Tal was at the end of the day, just after the sun had disappeared behind the mountains. The lake that had been so active during the day was mostly empty now, with the doongas at rest, awaiting their next day’s work. A few fishermen and boaters remained on the water, quietly closing their boats. The pastel skies behind the black mountains were reflected in the rippling lake. After a busy day, it was a blessing to admire the lake’s beauty in relative quiet, just a few steps away from the main harbour.


International Mountain Museum

The International Mountain Museum is small but informative, with displays about famous climbing expeditions. Photos, gear, and other mementos from the many failed attempts are featured, including basic hiking boots, snowshoes and goggles. Of course, one exhibit is dedicated to Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful climb of Everest in 1953.


The Mountaineering Exhibit.


Other displays illuminate the lives of everyday Nepalis, with artifacts that include dishes, candlesticks, pitchers and relics, as well as representations of national costumes.

An exhibit on climate change shows how shifting conditions are impacting the mountains and the country. The effects of climate change in the Himalayas include melting glaciers, as well as changing monsoon patterns and rainfall cycles. Another feature shows shocking before-and-after photos of Nepal’s devastating 2015 earthquake.

As we left the museum, we saw the distant Annapurna II and Lamjung Himal peaks. Shrouded in snow, and peeking over the tops of the trees at the entrance, the mountains provided a tempting vision of what has driven so many climbers to try to conquer them. And it was a reminder that, no matter where you are in Pokhara and throughout Nepal, the mountains are a part of everyday life.



Notes: The author was a guest of Intrepid Travel on their Classic Nepal journey, who did not review or approve this story.